Amendments to Surface Mining rules considered

We had a work session on amendments to surface mining permitting processes and mineral resource land designation criteria at a meeting last month. On October 23rd, we will have a hearing on these changes. The Sept 23 agenda materials are HERE

The purpose of designating Mineral Resource land is to let current and future land owners know that there are valuable mineral resources under the surface, and to discourage development of that land that would be incompatible with future mining. However, Whatcom County has defined it’s mineral resource lands by identifying the current, active mining permits only. This means that Whatcom County has no Mineral Resource Land (MRL) in reserve for future mining.

It also means designating a new parcel a MRL has become synonymous with an application to actually mine that parcel. But MRL designation is not a “right to mine”, the way agricultural or forest zoned land is. The owner must always make a separate application to begin mining which most likely requires a public process.

Because of the above-mentioned confusion about what MRL designation is, the only applications in recent decades to designate new MRL became a fight over whether that particular parcel should be mined. And public opposition killed both applications.

The two competing proposals before the PC are attempts to fix the process so that Whatcom County can actually designate some more MRL for future (sand, gravel, hard rock) needs. Exhibit A was written by Carl Weimer and Barbara Brenner, and includes combining some aspects of the MRL designation with the environmental studies that are required for the mining permit itself. Exhibit B is the proposal that emerged from the Surface Mining Advisory Committee (SMAC) after considering the Weimer/Brenner proposal. The differences are detailed in the agenda materials.

I’m not convinced either will really address the problem we have. We have no Mineral Resource Land in reserve for future needs, and continuing to designate new parcels piecemeal will also continue the situation that focuses the discussion on the appropriateness of mining on that particular parcel. When this happens, we don’t have the big picture where we can say “what other land would be more appropriate for mining?” Whatcom County has done some analysis of mineral resources (see links below) but have not taken these forward to designate MRLs.

The Commission asked for more information, and here’s what we got:
Final SMAC Report from 2004
Comparison of Designation of Mineral Resources
Mineral Resources Background Report-Whatcom Co, 1994
 Snohomish Co Comp Plan-Land Use Element  
Skagit Co Comp Plan Land Use Element
Also an Aggregate Resource Inventory Study, 2003, that was too big to upload.

District 3 Position Application Deadline October 21st

We need to find a new Commissioner to represent District 3 (mainly west of the Guide) to help us with the important work of updating the 20-year Comprehensive Plan. For those of you in the 1st District, we have two seats expiring in January.
If you are interested, don’t hesitate to call me at 319-8287 to discuss any questions you have. The application deadline is 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday, October 21, 2014. Nomination and appointment are scheduled for Tuesday, October 28 at the regular evening Council meeting. DETAILS

My Impressions of Town Hall on Comp Plan Update

The Whatcom County Planning Commission hosted a town hall meeting to present to the publi an overview of what the Comprehensive Plan update will involved, and get general comments from the public before we start the 2-year process.  Project information is available on the County website. Written comments are HERE. Comments were dominated by the theme of family-wage jobs, protecting and expanding industrial jobs at Cherry Point, how long individual speakers’ families have lived in Whatcom County, and lamenting that children can’t find jobs here in Whatcom County.
I want to get this out to remind you about the deadline for the vacancy, so I’m not gong to elaborate on my thoughts now, but will next time, and at the PC meeting this Thursday.

Next County Council meeting October 28
FULL County Council AGENDA
Planning Commission AGENDA
Planning Commission Meeting Schedule

Town Hall Meeting Oct. 9 Kicks off Comp Plan Update

The Whatcom County Planning Commission will host a town hall meeting regarding the periodic update of the Whatcom County Comprehensive Plan and the urban growth area (UGA) review, which are both required by the Growth Management Act.  The update must be completed by June 2016.  The purpose of the town hall meeting is to discuss issues, and obtain public input, related to the Comprehensive Plan update and UGA review. Project information is available on the County website.

The town hall meeting will be held Thursday, October 9, 2014 at 6:30 p.m. at the Whatcom County Council Chambers, 311 Grand Avenue, Bellingham.  The public is invited to submit written comments and/or attend this meeting to provide oral comments.

Commissioner Haugen Resigns; Deadline for Application October 21st

District 3 Commissioner Walter Haugen resigned after our last meeting, after declining to attend the last two meetings over a dispute regarding the Commission’s attendance rules. The Bellingham Herald story covers most of this controversy.

I’m not going to defend or refute Mr. Haugen’s concerns or issues; he’s more than capable of speaking for himself. I would say, however, that Commission meetings are run well and respectfully of all present. I would not sit there and allow others, whatever their politics, to be bullied or harassed. Sometimes Commissioners say really odd or outrageous things that I do not agree with, but they are never personal attacks. Accepting differences of opinion and looking beyond those differences is what it means to work on a public board.

My concern now is to find a new Commissioner to represent District 3 (mainly west of the Guide) to help us with the important work of updating the 20-year Comprehensive Plan. For those of you in the 1st District, we have two seats expiring in January.

If you are interested, don’t hesitate to call me at 319-8287 to discuss any questions you have. The application deadline is 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday, October 21, 2014. Nomination and appointment are scheduled for Tuesday, October 28 at the regular evening Council meeting.

People Get Excited About Changes to Parks and Trails Level-of-Service

The Planning Commission held a public hearing on the draft Six-Year Capital Improvement Program (CIP) for Whatcom County Facilities 2015-2020 at our last meeting. The Six-Year CIP includes plans for County parks, trails, activity centers, maintenance and operations, general government buildings and sites, Sheriff’s Office facilities, emergency management, correction facilities, stormwater facilities and transportation.

The agitation was about the proposed new way of defining level of service (LOS) standards for parks and trails in the Capital Facilities chapter of the Whatcom County Comprehensive Plan. More than one person suggested this was a bait and switch after promising a developed park and trails with the acceptance of the Reconveyance of land on the North Shore of Lake Whatcom last year. Even a left-leaning commissioner had a problem with the way the new LOS was defined for parks.Toward the end of the over three hour meeting, I believe I used the word “overwrought” to describe the concerns I was repeatedly hearing.

Here’s what I understand after much questioning of Parks Director McFarland and about three hours of testimony and discussion:

  • The LOS standards in the Comprehensive Plan are benchmarks that must be met for the approval of any new development (and actionable if not met, before the Growth Management Hearings Board). In the case of parks and trails, a much finer description of level of service is defined in the Comprehensive Parks, Recreation and Open Space Plan, also adopted by the County Council.
  • The conservative PC asked for changes to the Parks LOS two years ago
  • The current Parks LOS is based of surveys of the public about what they think we need, and then adjusted to what is realistic financially. It has not been based on any empirical analysis of how many acres of parkland are needed for a certain number of people since the 1970s.
  • The proposed Parks LOS is based on the same surveys of the public, but is described in number of developed parks, rather than total park acres.
  • The Trails LOS has been at an unachievable level for some years. The proposed new LOS is more realistic.
  • The proposed change in LOS for trails describes multi-purpose trails only. A finer LOS, including single-use trails like mountain bike and equestrian, is described in the Comprehensive Parks, Recreation and Open Space Plan.

I was a minority of one in supporting the proposal as is. The majority recommended maintaining the current Parks LOS definition, and to add back in the single-use trails in the Trails LOS. This will be discussed in the Public Works Committee of the Council on Oct 14, and scheduled for consideration by the Council on Oct 28. Read the Project information and draft proposal HERE.

Amendments to Surface Mining rules

We had a work session on amendments to surface mining permitting processes and mineral resource land designation criteria at a meeting last month. On October 23rd, we will have a hearing on these changes. The Sept 11 agenda materials are HERE

The purpose of designating Mineral Resource land is to let current and future land owners know that there are valuable mineral resources under the surface, and to discourage development of that land that would be incompatible with future mining.

Probably the most revealing thing to come out of the work session was that Whatcom County defined it’s mineral resource lands by identifying the current, active mining permits.This means that Whatcom County has no mineral resource land in reserve for future mining.

Skagit and Snohomish Counties both took a decade or more assessing all the land in their county before they finished designating mineral resource lands. I received an email during the meeting from one of you, suggesting I ask what Skagit and Snohomish’s criteria was for their designation.

The Commission asked for more information, and here’s what we got:
Final SMAC Report from 2004
Comparison of Designation of Mineral Resources
Mineral Resources Background Report-Whatcom Co, 1994
 Snohomish Co Comp Plan-Land Use Element  
Skagit Co Comp Plan Land Use Element
Also an Aggregate Resource Inventory Study, 2003, that was too big to upload.

Next County Council meeting October 14
FULL County Council AGENDA
Planning Commission AGENDA
Planning Commission Meeting Schedule

–Natalie
360-319-8287